COURTESY OF UTAH STATE
Jaycee Carroll of Utah State is averaging 20 points per game and shooting 54 percent from the field.
Man off a mission
After taking care of his religious duties, Jaycee Carroll is taking care of business for the Utah State Aggies
Jaycee Carroll had himself quite a freshman year at Utah State.
The 6-foot-2 guard started 31 games and hit better than 52 percent of his shots, including 79 from 3-point range, and averaged 14.7 points in helping the Aggies reach the NCAA Tournament.
Hawaii vs. Utah State
When and where: Tomorrow, 1:05 p.m. at the Stan Sheriff Center
TV: Pay-per-view, Dig. 255. Repeat at 10 a.m. Sunday on KFVE.
Radio: Live, KKEA 1420-AM
Tickets: $22 (lower level, single seats only), $18 (upper level-adult), $5 (upper-students), $3 (upper-UH students), $5 (Super Rooter/Manoa Maniacs)
Promotions: Free admission to the UH women's game against Campbell. Half off upper-level tickets by donating a toy for "Toys for Tots." The promotion is good only for advance sales at the Sheriff Center ticket office.
Not too shabby for a guy who had played basketball "probably 10 times" over the previous 24 months.
Carroll, a prolific high school scorer in Wyoming, delayed enrolling in college to go on a church mission after graduation. But his two-year absence from basketball didn't seem to have much of an effect on his game.
"When I got back my attitude was, 'I'm 21 years old, and I'd probably be a junior if I didn't go on a mission. So I would like to play as if I was a junior, play as if I had that much experience,' " Carroll said. "I took the attitude that I wasn't new and that I could compete with all the people I played against."
Carroll has continued to fill the net as a sophomore, leading the Aggies with 20 points per game entering tomorrow's Western Athletic Conference opener against Hawaii (3-2) at the Stan Sheriff Center. Tip-off is 1:05 p.m.
He's made a league-high 19 3-pointers for the Aggies (4-2) and earned WAC Player of the Week honors after scoring a career-high 30 points in a win over Weber State last Saturday. He shot 10-for-16 from the field and drilled five from long range that night.
Carroll has made 54 percent of his attempts this season for a Utah State team that leads the nation in shooting at 54.8 percent.
"He's catch-and-shoot, and he's hard to cover," Hawaii coach Riley Wallace said. "If he separates from you at all and gets any kind of distance, he's going to knock it down. He's a pure shooter."
Putting up points in bunches is nothing new for Carroll, who averaged 39.4 as a senior at Evanston High in Wyoming.
He put basketball on hold after high school and left small-town life to serve a mission in Santiago, Chile. He gained a new perspective in the South American city.
"I saw people who didn't have houses. I saw people that lived in tiny little concrete houses and I saw the type of life they lived," Carroll said. "It was an experience. I can't really describe how good it was for me."
Carroll said missionaries are allowed a few hours every Monday for free time and he devoted most of his to exploring a new country and playing soccer, the sport of choice in Chile, rather than work on basketball.
Although he relished the experience of serving a mission, he also looked forward to returning to the court when he arrived on the Utah State campus.
"I hadn't played a full-court basketball game for two years. So when I got back, I was as excited as could be to finally get to play basketball and get to play against people that were so competitive in the sport," he said.
It didn't take Carroll long to regain his shooting touch, scoring 19 points in his debut last season against Georgia Southern.
He went on to earn second-team All-Big West Conference honors and became the first freshman to be named MVP of the league tournament. He closed the season by hitting five 3-pointers in scoring 18 points in a loss to Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Utah State joined the WAC this year and Carroll's reputation led to a spot on the preseason All-WAC first team.
He's lived up to the advanced billing so far, and he credits the Aggies' system for setting him up for open shots.
"Most of my shots come out of our offense and off of guys setting good screens for me and making good passes to me in a scoring position where I'm able to put it in the basket," he said.
Carroll is one of four Aggies averaging double-figure scoring this season. Forward Nate Harris (14.3 ppg) is shooting 60 percent from the field. Center Cass Matheus enters tomorrow's game at 10.8 ppg and forward Durrall Peterson contributes 10 points.
While Carroll is among the league's top scorers, Utah State coach Stew Morrill has made no secret of his desire to see the guard improve on the defensive end of the court.
"He's said before that I couldn't even guard a chair if we put it out there, and things like that," Carroll said. "All of that is just motivation, he just wants me to become a better, well-rounded player."
But when the frustrations on the court mount or school work piles up, Carroll looks back on his time abroad and remembers that college life isn't so hard after all.
"Down there, I talked to people that worked 16 or 17 hours a day and barely have a small apartment," he said. "And here I am, I have to go to school for 3 or 4 hours a day, and then go to basketball practice, and then go to a nice apartment and sleep in a nice bed. I have things really easy."